What does it look like to mentor others effectively?

An effective mentoring relationship can look different for everyone, but there are a few common traits that set the most fruitful relationships apart. We unpack them in this article.

Noah Edis

Published on 

August 18, 2022

Updated on 

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Many organizations are launching mentoring programs but few are seeing broad impact.

Why are mentorship programs not working and how can we change that? 

By providing the tools, advice, and resources needed to make the most of a mentorship program. For many people, mentorship can be a critical tool for career growth and development, so it’s worth learning how it works. 

On the other side of that coin, understanding how to effectively mentor someone can mean the difference between a fruitful relationship and a waste of time.

Let’s take a closer look at how mentors can be most effective at their job, and how to encourage that mindset in the workplace.

What is effective mentorship?

At its core, the connection between mentor and mentee needs to be considered a partnership. It must be grown slowly and over time, with both parties nurturing it along the way. In short, the mentoring relationship needs to be authentic.

For it to be effective, both people must gain something from the relationship. The mentee can learn valuable knowledge, while the mentor can feel a sense of satisfaction from helping pass on their skills and experience. 

Good mentorships are built on trust, respect, and communication. Both sides should have each other’s best interests at heart and be invested in the partnership.

What does effective mentorship look like in an organization?

Developing a mentorship culture is an important factor in an organization’s success. By nurturing the talent within the company, organizations can develop a roster of high-performing employees and a pipeline of future leaders. 

For employees, mentorship can provide access to important social capital, improve job satisfaction, and help them advance their careers.

While each business will have to find its way, the most successful programs share a few key elements.

  • Voluntary: Employees should feel like they are participating in the program because they want to, not because they feel like they have to. 
  • Structured: There need to be clear objectives for each mentorship relationship, and milestones that can be celebrated along the way.
  • Training: It should improve soft skills like goal-setting, how to give and receive feedback, conflict resolution, and leadership ability, while also providing opportunities to learn concrete, applicable hard skills for career advancement.
  • Evaluation: Consistent monitoring is required so that the program can be improved over time. This evaluation should include both quantitative and qualitative data. 

Remember, a mentor is someone who passes on knowledge and support; an effective mentor does so with enthusiasm, compassion, and a willingness to learn.

eBook Guide Mentors and Mentees To Better Relationships

What are the key elements of effective mentoring?

To have quality mentors in your company, you must find people who can connect on a personal level while also pushing forward a professional goal. There are a handful of things that every great mentor is able to do:

Encourage discovery

One of the most important things a mentor can do is guide their mentee to discover things for themselves. This means asking probing questions and listening more than talking. It also means giving them the space to experiment and make mistakes.

Advise through storytelling

The most successful mentors will not give directives, as they would to a subordinate, but provide advice through their wisdom instead. 

Share stories about your experiences and let the mentee come to their conclusions. This allows them to feel more in control of their situation and learn from their mistakes, rather than feeling like they were instructed by a boss or trained by a corporate guide. 

Develop enthusiasm

An effective mentor is invested in their mentee’s growth and development. They want to see their mentee succeed and are enthusiastic about helping them reach their potential.

Pass on a growth mindset

A good mentor has an infectious growth mindset – they believe that everyone has the potential to improve and want to help that process along. This positive attitude is contagious and helps their mentee develop a similar outlook.

How can you become more effective in mentoring others?

Mentorship is a valuable but often underutilized tool that can help individuals from all walks of life to achieve their goals. Whether you’re a first-time mentor for a colleague, a friend, or a family member, there are certain things you can do to make the experience more effective for both parties. 

Here are a few tips on how to be a more effective mentor:

1. Set clear expectations

It is important to set clear expectations from the beginning. What does the mentee want to achieve? What are your goals for the mentorship? What are the ground rules? This way, you can avoid misunderstandings and frustration down the road.

2. Empower mentees to take charge of their growth

Mentorship is a two-way street. For it to be effective, both parties need to be invested in the process. As the mentor, you can help to facilitate this by empowering your mentee to take charge of their situation.

Seek to understand and help them discover a plan to achieve their goals, don’t just tell them how to get there. 

3. Hold them accountable

Part of being an effective mentor is holding your mentee accountable for their goals. This means gently pushing them to stay on track and giving them the honest feedback they need to continue growing. 

It can be easy to let things slide, especially if you’re busy with your work. But, if you want to be an effective mentor, it’s important to make the time to check in with your mentee and see how they’re progressing.

This doesn’t need to be a long, laborious process – a quick catch-up chat or email exchange can suffice.

A good mentor is someone the mentee can trust and confide in. This relationship should be built on mutual respect, and the mentee should feel comfortable coming to the mentor with any concerns or questions.

Mentoring tips from experienced mentors

Mentoring: Insight from Art of War by Sun Tzu

One of the many insights that I learned from The Art of War and have utilized is to treat your mentee like your own child Sun Tzu says, “Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.” I found that what he meant was that to be a successful mentor you need to be firm, understanding, encouraging, and not harsh as this will allow some of the pressure to be alleviated off your mentee and they will likely perform better and know that you care.

- Todd Sarouhan, Go Visit San Diego

Dig for the pain

Ask your mentee, "What's the most painful growing pain or challenge you're facing?" Find out what hurts emotionally. This is likely what the person will be most motivated to improve upon.

So instead of imparting your wisdom that may or may not be received well, you're helping this person heal their most wounded feelings. Your mentee will want to fix the problem. She or he will be very open to your ideas and experiences.

- Scott Lieberman, Touchdown Money

Two-way job shadowing

Job shadowing is a fantastic way to mentor a teammate as you follow them virtually or physically through a day in their role. You’ll gain some significant insights that can help you spot any potential problem areas, adjust your mentorship strategy accordingly, and help them get more out of their schedule and performance.

Though mentee shadowing is a fantastic move, you’re only going to see half as many benefits as you could with two-way or reverse shadowing. Allowing your mentee to follow you through a day can help them set bigger career goals, experience what a higher-level position is really like, and learn the “work hacks” you’ve implemented over the years. If you can get clients and teammates to agree, let your mentee listen in on conference or sales calls and meetings for an even deeper view of the work.

- Scott Lieberman

Be vulnerable as a leader

Oftentimes, junior employees will fear making errors, or worse, defend every mistake they make. Not realizing that, accepting your flaws is the first step in improving.

Lead by example and demonstrate your vulnerability. Communicate the areas where you believe you can improve as a leader, and ask your employees what things you can work on to better support them as a leader.

In my experience, doing so helps strengthen your relationship between you and your employees, and creates an environment of growth.

- Datis Mohsenipour, Outback Team Building & Training

Be Willing to Say "I Don't Know"

When someone is looking to you for advice or guidance and they think you have the answers, it's difficult to admit you don't know something or you don't have the experience to help them.

In this case, the best thing you can do is say "I don't know the answer to your question. But I'm going to find and connect you with someone who can help."

Then make every effort to do so. While it's good for mentees to seek answers for themselves, you likely have a much broader network of colleagues and connections you can access. Find the person who has the experience or answers your mentee needs and be willing to step back and let that person take the lead.

- Devin Schumacher, SERP

Make mentorship part of your company’s DNA

Implementing a mentorship program can be difficult and requires some work before it catches on. When done well, however, it can help employees feel more engaged with their work and build the skills they need to be successful.

There are several ways to encourage mentorship at work.

  • Promote: Make sure employees know that mentorship is something that your company values. This can be done through things like job postings, articles on the company intranet, and even emails from leadership.
  • Encourage: Once you’ve caught people’s attention, it’s important to encourage them to participate in the program. This might mean offering incentives, such as extra vacation days or gift cards. You could also make participation mandatory for certain positions.
  • Train: Investing in training for mentors and mentees will help ensure that the program is successful. This might include workshops, online courses, or even one-on-one coaching.
  • Equip: Ensure that mentors have the resources they need to be successful. This might include things like a budget for professional development or access to exclusive networking events.
  • Spotlight: Make sure to spotlight successful mentorship relationships. This can be done through things like case studies, blog posts, or even awards ceremonies.
  • Host: Consider hosting special events that focus on mentorship. This could be something like a panel discussion or an “ask me anything” session with successful mentors.

Mentorship programs can be a great way to engage employees and help them build the skills they need to be successful. By promoting the program, encouraging participation, and investing in training, you can set your company up for success.

Discover how Together's mentoring software can help you run an effective mentoring program!

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